An Interview With Laura Munson

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Life can be tough. Especially if you have to go at it alone. Luckily, there are a people in the world who work to bring a little bit of light and magic back into our everyday lives. They let us into their world and allow us insight into their personal on goings. We read their stories because we see a piece of ourselves reflected back. We read because suddenly, the hard things don’t seem as hard when someone else has faced them too. If everything turned out all right for them, maybe it will for us as well.

There is a magical quality to community and Mamalode is lucky to be a part of a very special one composed of amazing people. And we appreciate those that go out into the world and try to create more communities where words are spun into love and shared—where creativity and raw honesty are encouraged. 

Laura Munson is one of these people. Mamalode appreciates women like Laura who offer guidance and words of support. And who share their stories in hopes it will help others get through their tough days.

We had the opportunity to talk with Laura about finding your creative self:

“How often do you hear yourself saying, “I’m not creative?” Or “I’d love to write a book, but my story’s not that interesting,” or “I don’t have the time.” The truth is: you are creative. And you do have a story that is uniquely yours. And you do have the time. You simply need to learn how to give yourself permission. You got dressed this morning. You chose a couch for your living room. You choose the words that come out of your mouth. You are a creative being by nature. And the child in you knows it well. It’s just the adult who sometimes forgets.

Part of it has to do with the fact that society doesn’t value creativity as a lifeline. But creativity is the most powerful lifeline I know. I used it to work through a marital crisis depicted in my New York Times and international best-selling memoir “This Is Not The Story You Think It Is,” and I use it daily as I go through the bumps in life. It’s my practice, my prayer, my meditation, my way of life and sometimes my way to life.

In my travels promoting my book and its message about turning crisis into creativity, I hear over and over again how hungry people are for their creative voice but how stuck they feel in the pursuit of finding it. They want to know how to have creativity in their lives like diet and exercise, but they can’t seem to give themselves permission. So I started to de-construct how it is that my creativity comes so naturally to me. And when I found the answer, I decided I wanted to help people find the safe haven I find daily in answering the most powerful question I know: what can I create? I have my answer and I want people to have theirs.

So I founded Haven Writing Retreats in Montana where I live. Montana has been my muse for over twenty years. The wilderness of its rugged terrain matches the wilderness of the writing life. Five times a year, I lead my retreats at a ranch tucked into the woods, surrounded by thousands of acres. And people come. All ages, all backgrounds, from all over the world. Some are published writers and some haven’t written since college. But they have one thing in common: they are seekers. They are all shedding old stories, and they are boldly taking this stand for their creative self-expression. Each time, I see a break-through where there were blocks. Inspiration where there was fear. Healing where there was pain  And when they return home, they have a re-charged, re-purposed, creative practice, as well as the continuing support of a nurturing, supportive Haven community.”

Here is an excerpt from Laura’s memoir, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is

So I’m blissing out in the hot tub with my cup of jasmine green tea and the French doors open and it’s him. He’s in a towel and then he’s in the hot tub. In the past few years he’s made a point of never getting in the hot tub with me and now I know why, even though I’ve known it in my gut all along. HE THINKS I’LL TALK. He thinks I’ll bring up hard subjects. Try to drag him into my personal mission to go at life in perpetual full-frontal passionate honesty—even to the derailment of my own health and happiness. No more!

So I don’t talk.

I just temporarily helped save a pack of wolves. I don’t need to talk. I sip my tea, smile at him, and lean my head back on the hot tub, basking in the sun and the fact that I’m a chick who doesn’t need to talk.

So guess what? Yep. You got it. He talks…

It comes out calm and vulnerable.

“You know,” he says, “being with my sister… who’s fighting for her life—I just …” He stops and starts again. “I just realize what matters. It’s not your job. It’s your relationships.”

He pauses and I am stone still.

“It’s been great this summer not torturing myself with a dead-end job. I see how miserable it was making me. And I see now that I’m not going to live the rest of my life hating my job. Waking up at the crack of dawn to do something I hate.”

Oh, this is good, I’m thinking. He’s getting it. And he hasn’t even had any therapy!

He continues, “I’ve just needed to get through this hard time. It’s like I’m just waking up to the fact that I’m in the middle of my life. This is it. I’m a 42-year-old who wants to be in a 20-year-old’s body, and it’s not working. And there are so many…messages pummeling me from all sides. You have to be young and fit and successful and rich. And it’s gotten to me”.

Yeah. It’s called a Midlife Crisis, oh dear one. Or a “Midlife Opportunity.” As it’s now referred to. But I am silent. Stunning myself. My eyes are closed.

He continues, “and all that other stuff I said to you earlier this summer…after Italy…I’ve let go of it all. I’ve let go of everything that was bugging me. I can never repay you for what I put you though. It’s just the way I’ve always done things. I have to hit rock bottom and then, when I’m bloody and bruised, I rise up.”

Grace. Finally, his heart in his hand. I think of the heart shaped rock at the bottom of the river. I wonder if it will ever make its way to the sea.

But here’s how the suffering me wants to handle it. She wants to throw a tantrum: That’s it?! That’s all you’ve got to say??!! Well, thanks for the fucking memo, Mr. Rising Phoenix. You’ve ruined my summer. I’ve probably got a brain tumor now, thanks to the stress you put me under. Never mind the fallout on the kids. And I’m supposed to have some sort of sympathy for you because you finally got that you’ve been acting like a 20-year old frat boy for the last three months? Bruised and bloody, my
ass. That’s just a story you’ve told yourself to excuse yourself for being irresponsible. I want an apology. I deserve an apology. A clean: “I’m sorry”.

But I put on the brakes. I DON’T WANT TO SUFFER. I am not in denial if I keep my mouth shut, as long as I sweep those thoughts off the front porch of my mind. If out of that swept surface I find a few true words. Measure them before I speak; if I utter any at all. I’m protecting myself from pain, and that is my first priority. What he’s just said has worlds in it that, yes, I might have to decipher. But I’m great at deciphering code when it comes to interpersonal relationships. The must-be-fully- self-expressed-at-all-times police can go home. I really really don’t want to suffer.

Oh, but it’s temping.

So I hold my poison in the sun, feeling the jest working my back. I take a deep breath. Think about my tea and how it’s just the right temperature by now.

I open my eyes, reach for the mug, and take a nice sip. Then I put it back on the hot tub, lean my head back in the sun, and say, “One thing you might want to look at is your relationship with resentment.”

That’s it. It’s perfectly rational. It doesn’t take sides. And it’s true. I resist the urge to go into a 40-minute dissertation on all that I’ve learned in therapy about resentment and how it screws with you. Makes double damn certain that you suffer. Keeps you in victim mode.

He has a retort. This astounds me. This might just be the first conversation we’ve had all summer, except for the first one—the kickoff—the bad one. This one is good. He says, “I’ve given that some thought. And I’m through with resentment. I’m at a true crossroads. A true beginning.”

To this I look at him straight on. But I don’t say anything. For a while, I sit there and feel what it is to trust myself. To take care of myself. To be the sole proprietor for my own happiness. “It feels good to be responsible for your own happiness. It feels good to be 42. That’s what I’ve learned.” And then I lean back and close my eyes again.

“Yeah,” he says. “I just wish my back didn’t hurt, and that we weren’t so broke. And that my sister wasn’t dying. And that I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”

And I think of him at age 20. And I think of us as equals. And I say, “You can be anything you want to be.”

When it really comes down to it, what more of an apology do I need? The police and parole officers and Sheila have gone home. We don’t need them anymore. They never did anything but shout in our ears and freak us out anyway. Putting us constantly on red alert.

To borrow from the Johnny Mercer song: We’ve been happy and unhappy together. It seems important to know how to do both.
       -Laura Munson, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is

Laura Munson finds her release in creative expression, just as so many of the moms who fill the pages of Mamalode do everyday. Sometimes, finding a solace and an outlet, knowing and belonging to a community, can make all the difference. Whether it’s a community whose words and blogs bring camaraderie and comfort to others like them, or a community whose intention is to spark creativity as an outlet for everything that life hurls at us; community is what lets us know that we are not alone.

People like Laura Munson work to create these communities; communities like the one that we at Mamalode are so proud to be a part of.

This excerpt from Laura's book was originally published in Mamalode Magazine, Fall 2011, theme-letting go.

Click here to purchase Laura's book!

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